Baylee Rayl Jumps from 21st to a Games Ticket on Sunday; Alex Gazan Steals Top Spot at North America West Semifinal
As a fan of the sport there’s nothing more exciting than a competition that comes down to the last workout. Not only did the fans get to experience this watching the women at the North America West Semifinal in Pasadena, CA, but they got to experience it twice: Once on the bubble to decide who would snag the last three invites to the CrossFit Games, and once to decide the top spot on the podium.
The podium race: Heading into the final event, two-time Games athlete Arielle Loewen led the way, but only by four points over two-time CrossFit champion Katrin Davidsdottir, who missed qualifying in 2022, while 2022 Games rookie Alex Gazan was just seven points back of Davidsdottir.
- But it was Gazan who came up the most on the final test to overtake the veterans and finish on the podium, while Davidsdottir crossed the line five seconds ahead of Loewen to snag second, dropping Loewen to third.
The bubble race: Mathematically, the entire field in the fifth of six heats in the final workout still had a chance to qualify to the Games. And it was so close between Games veterans Baylee Rayl and Dani Speegle, and would-be rookies Abigail Domit, Kelly Baker and Kloie Wilson that when the event was over, it still wasn’t at all clear who the final three athletes would be.
- When the numbers were crunched, it was 25-year-old Domit who snuck into eighth with 421 points, with Rayl and Baker tying for ninth with 415 points. Rayl took the tie-break, Baker grabbed the final spot, leaving Speegle the first woman on the wrong side of the cutline.
They will be joined in Madison, WI with 2022 rookie Chrisine Kolenbrander (fourth), veterans Bethany Shadburne and Emily Rolfe (fifth and sixth) and 17-year-old rookie Olivia Kerstetter (seventh).
Test 6: The day started with a test dominated by technical gymnastics movements: handstand walking, handstand pirouettes, chest-to-wall handstand push-ups and seated legless rope climbs.
- Bubble athletes who made big moves on the test were three-time Games athlete Rolfe, who entered the day three spots out of a qualification position in 13th, and Rayl, who started the day in 21st overall.
- After a couple tough tests earlier in the weekend, Rolfe, a former national level gymnast, looked in her element on all of the technical gymnastics movements, cruising through the pirouettes and legless rope climbs to a heat win. Her time was good enough for 10th, helping launch her into eighth overall.
- Rayl also put forth a quiet but big performance in an earlier heat, securing herself a fifth place finish and moving her into 15th with one test to go.
- Meanwhile, Emily White, who entered the day on the right side of the cut line in ninth had a hard time with the legless rope climbs, eventually putting up a 44th place performance, and dropping her all the way to 14th overall.
- Similarly, Hannah Black, who started the day in what looked like a safe position in sixth, dropped all the way to 12th after a 46th place on Test 6, adding to the yo-yo-ing leaderboard that had been in action all weekend.
- Finally, among the podium contenders, Gazan came out with the biggest performance. She entered the day in third, 26 points away from Loewen in first, and made the legless rope climbs look easy as many others struggled. She took the lead in the middle portion of the workout and hung on for her second event win of the weekend. Meanwhile, Loewen just edged out Davidsdottir (sixth and seventh respectively), giving Loewen just a four point cushion heading into the final event.
Event 7: Grip strength and grit: That seemed to be the name of the game in the final test involving three rounds of 10 calories on the Echo bike, 20 toes-to-bar and a 60-foot sandbag bear hug.
- The fight for the final three spots started in Heat Five with Rayl, White, Lauren Fisher, Black and Speegle all fighting for their lives. But it was Rayl and Speegle who gave themselves the best possible chance, with Rayl taking the heat win and Speegle coming second in the heat.
- In the final heat, Rolfe looked possessed from start to finish. Her biggest strength was her quick kip on her toes-to-bar, which allowed her to make up some valuable seconds on other athletes with a bigger, slower kip. She took a decisive lead in the second round and held onto it for her first event win of the weekend, enough to secure her sixth overall.
- Baker, a 2022 CrossFit Games team athlete, on the other hand, made her loved ones sweat. Heading into the day, Baker looked solid in eighth, but she finished last in the final heat, and 30th overall in the event, leaving her Games dream in jeopardy. In the end, she managed to do just enough to steal the final spot over Speegle, but just two points.
- And again, in a tight race for the top spot, it was Gazan, who was able to stay ahead of the two women she needed to beat—Davidsdottir and Loewen—giving the 25-year-old Gazan the title in North America West.
The big picture: When it comes to significant leaderboard fluctuations and exciting plot twists, Pasadena, CA was the place to be this weekend. Right from Day 1, there was no clear dominant athlete, and inconsistent performances from the get go only made the leaderboard more volatile to being turned upside down.
This remained true the entire weekend, but after three days and seven tests, it’s Gazan who reigns supreme in the West. She will be joined by six other Games veterans and three rookies on the biggest stage of the sport this summer.